Eight years ago, Canadian musician Dave Carroll made a customer complaint about United Airlines, very public creating a YouTube video, United Breaks Guitarsand launching the first great social customer service #fail.

Carroll was a single voice going to extraordinary lengths to get even over an act of corporate carelessness. 

broken guitar

Today, in the digital era, it’s easier than ever for customers to tweet or post about a brand wherever, whenever. According to the Institute of Customer Service, there was an eightfold increase in social customer complaints between 2014 and 2015.

While many won’t take the time to express their complaints with a full-blown song (as Carroll did), customers are more than willing to use social media as a platform for expressing opinions. And they are shouting at ever increasing volumes.

Although customers have been airing their grievances on social for some time now, companies are just starting to listen in and join the conversation. In a 2016 state-of-the-nation report, customer service thought leaders said businesses have only recently begun to recognize the need for social customer service.

Brands are lagging significantly behind their customers, creating a social customer service gap.

And it shows. The majority of companies are barely adequate when it comes to their most public customer exchanges. According to Northridge Group, the channel that disappoints customers the most is social.

Likely because most complaints made on social are being ignored. According to  data from Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters, only 40% of complaints made on social media are even addressed.

So how do businesses catch-up with their customers?

Here are a few tips for how to close the social customer service gap.

1. Assume social first

Social is no longer the last resort for customers who want to (Read more...) about brands. It is a hugely convenient way to communicate, so it is becoming the touchpoint of choice — rapidly replacing call centers and emails.

Start by identifying which channels your customers are on and then provide customer support on those channels all-day, everyday. Social customer service is no longer an initiative; it needs to be treated as the core of customer service.

Putting social first means staffing outside of office hours and ensuring that each social comment or complaint is answered to appropriately.

2. Be timely

Expectations on social have not stood still. While once delighted with a mere response, customers now want resolution and, according to a report from Edison, they want it quickly.

A significant proportion (42 percent) want to hear back from companies in an hour and almost a third expected a response in just 30 minutes.

What’s more, over half of customers expect the same response times in the evenings and on weekends. Staff your social service team accordingly and shoot for quick response times no matter what.

social cust

3. Integrate

Social started its life in most businesses with the marketing department. It was mistakenly thought of as a new broadcast channel. Meanwhile customer service teams have been treated like cost-centers with limited access to the rest of the business and tightly controlled by process and policy.

This has changed. In an era where businesses are differentiating themselves on the quality of the customer experience, all departments need to contribute to social customer service.

To respond quickly and decisively to customer problems, requests should be sent directly to the appropriate department, whether it be engineering, design, management or even top executives.

The process may start with the customer service team, but rapid resolution can often require collaboration from the entire company.

4. Stop faking: everyone is watching

For some firms, the initial approach to social was to either be defensive of its public nature or to grandstand occasional examples of good customer service for the sake of self promotion. This is no more than pretending and can quickly turn into a public relations disaster.

Most businesses, however, recognize that good service has always been good business and, in most cases, people are willing to pay more for excellent service. In fact, according to an American Express study, more than two thirds of US consumers would pay upwards of ten percent more. Progressive businesses have always conducted their affairs as if everyone is watching.

For brands that don’t act fast, the social gap is only going to widen. Customers are weary of hold music, telephone queues and of being ping-ponged between agents. They are never going to let go of their new-found control and convenience.

Social customer service is not just here to stay. It will continue to grow and dominate the way in which your customers connect with each other and with the companies that serve them.

That’s why it’s time for companies to accelerate their social customer service initiatives and to catch-up with their customers. Otherwise, as Jack Welch once said ‘When the rate of change outside the organization exceeds the rate of change inside, the end is near’.

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